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two tulips and bust

Moritorus – DepositPhotos.com

Next week, our nation takes time off to remember the brave souls who paid the ultimate price for keeping us safe. Many of us have never experienced the horror of armed conflict. Because of our veteran’s sacrifice, most of us will never have too. Our national day of remembrance ensures we never forget them.

My throat locks up when I visit veteran memorial parks. Headstones seemingly stretch to the horizon. Who were these brave souls? What dreams went unrealized? How many hearts were broken when they didn’t come home? How many sons and daughters went without a parent? For those whose remains are interred in this hallowed ground, the living will plant a flag on their grave in reverence, perhaps kiss a faded photograph, or touch a brittle love letter written long ago. But not all will be remembered this way. Countless tens-of-thousands throughout our country’s history are buried beneath forgotten soil, their legacy lost to the ages, their memory but a solitary memorial to the Unknown Soldier.

american flag and old gravestones

Patrick Terwort – DepositPhotos.com

Near my childhood home in rural Connecticut, was a tiny graveyard dating to the eighteenth-century. Hidden by trees, weed-choked and overgrown, wild honeysuckle bushes along a crumbling stone fence revealed its location. Many of the deceased buried there lived during the Revolutionary War. I wondered if any of them gave their life, or lost a loved one in the first American conflict that gave birth to our country. Hard to know, since no one placed little flags on gravesites for Memorial Day. No one remembered them. Thankfully, the National Center for Preservation Technology, an arm of the National Park Service, now helps to conserve the nation’s oldest graveyards. Maybe someday, I’ll go back to the old graveyard to see if it’s better preserved, if any flags decorate headstones on our day of remembrance, and see if the honeysuckle still blooms in summer.

Dad Ensign 1943

From Krippene Archives

My father was a naval officer during World War II. No amount of prodding as kids got him to tell us much of what he experienced. Every time we’d ask, he’d joke “I was a hero”, then leave it at that. We found no shoebox of memories when he passed on twenty-years ago. When the last of his sisters died, we discovered scrapbooks and albums hidden in her basement. A treasure trove of clippings, letters exchanged, and photographs of Dad, gave us a first-ever peek into my father’s life during the war. None of the letters hinted of his experiences aboard a destroyer in the Pacific, but he was one handsome dude in uniform. We’ll honor his service with a flag on his marker, and give thanks for his being a great dad.

I scanned the weekend newspaper listing the township events for Memorial Day, one of ten federally recognized days of observance that shutter government offices, banks, and many private businesses (not to be confused with Hallmark Card Day in February, and a day to recognize a Spanish-Italian explorer who got lost trying to find America). There will be a few parades, times to meet volunteer gatherings at the cemetery, and fireworks. I’ll be smoking up a storm for a BBQ and icing drinks in a washtub.

Memorial Mother Son

Pinterest – US News / NBC News – May 2012

But I will remind myself it’s less a “holiday”, than a time of reflection for those who died protecting our way of life, and compassion for the loved ones left behind with an empty chair at the table, a photograph on the mantle, newspaper clippings browned from age, and a hole in their hearts that will never completely heal.

Monday I will bend a knee in thanks for noble soldiers whose dreams went unfulfilled, so we the people could fulfill ours. I will add a prayer that someday, we humans will finally get it, and cease the endless violence that fosters the reason we bow our heads once a year in remembrance.